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Tournament Poker Chip Security Problems Addressed by Renowned Tour Directors

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With several cases of cheating and stealing at poker tournaments, chip security question have been raised.

Poker chip security issue is back on the agenda as directors of the renowned tournaments speak out on the matter. Back in January this year a $2 million guaranteed poker tourney at Borgata Casino, Atlantic City had to be cancelled. It has been discovered that one of the players managed to sneak in counterfeit chips to gain a competitive advantage over the rest of the field.

The case received continuation when several poker players, who entered the tournament held under American gambling laws, filed a lawsuit against Borgata. The case is still open and awaits proceedings.

Only a month later, the Palm Beach Kennel Club in Florida was hosting a stop on the World Series of Poker Circuit calendar. Another player was denied his winnings and banned from all WSOP events and Caesars properties after stealing a chip from his stack on the final table.

All these cases have already raised alarms about the safety of chips at the tournaments, but what is the magnitude of the problem? According to Jack Effel, WSOP Tournament Director, the issue is not that grand as it seems.

WSOP executive views

Jack Effel is confident the recent cases cannot tarnish the reputation of renowned tournament held at American poker rooms. Jack Effel said: “The fact that in all cases the perpetrators were caught is evidence that procedures work. We don’t discuss specifics regarding our chip security procedures, but know that all chips in and out of events are controlled, documented, and audited on an ongoing basis.”

He went on to add: “When the same chip set is in play for restarts and final tables, they are monitored closely but usually there are different denominations on the table at that point. Keep in mind that our dealers and floor staff are trained to treat tournament chips as though they were as sensitive as cash.”

Opinion from the WPT Tour Director

Another poker executive, Matt Savage, the Executive Tour Director for the World Poker Tour, agreed with his colleague saying these were truly isolated cases. And although he himself never had to face these problems at the Commerce Casino, Savage if confident some of the stops on the tour should definitely increase security to prevent cheating and stealing.

Is chip security an increasing problem for poker tourneys

• Recent cases of chip fraud and stealing at American poker rooms raised security questions

• Renowned poker tournament organizers acknowledge the issue

• Both WSOP and WPT tour directors say they are doing all they can to protect players

Matt Savage has been quoted in American gambling news: “In my opinion, one of the biggest problems at some of these places is that they leave too many chips out in play. They are ripe for the picking, because they are not doing enough color changes during play. I tend to do more color changes than most tournament directors, but that’s the best way to protect your inventory.”

“There are some tournaments that allow players to hold on to eight or nine racks of chips at a time. Compare that to a tournament that has players sitting with less than a rack of chips in front of them. Which tournament is going to be easier to compromise? It may make for a cool photo, but it’s not very practical,” – Savage continued.

According to Matt even the more renowned tournaments can face a problem with the chips themselves. Current accessories usually don’t come with unique designs and patterns, thus are easily duplicated. A nice chip set can go up to $0.75 per chip price. Making poker organizers not so willing to invest in more security.

Savage opined on the chip design: “A tournament chip needs an edge marking. Some places are running small daily tournaments and can’t afford custom sets, but if you are handling a tournament with millions of dollars at stake, the chips have to be difficult, if not impossible to duplicate.”

WPT Tour Director has shown an example to his colleagues by taking security one step further. Savage ensured every chip is accounted for right after his tournaments. He said: “I might be giving away a trade secret here, but I think its super important for a floorman to go and get the chips the minute the tournament is over.”

He continued: “Your job is to get them and make sure everything adds up. Sometimes there will be a winner photo taken, but I don’t allow the players to sit there with all of the chips. If you look at my winner photos, the players are sitting behind neat stacks of 20, which makes it a lot more obvious if a chip is taken.”

Other possible solutions to the security problem

One of the simplest ways to ensure the preliminary event chips don’t end up at the Main Event tables, is having different chip sets. Jack Effel said WSOP possesses multiple sets, but was quick to note that is a big factor calculating how much a chip is worth relating to the buy-in price.

He went on to explain: “One thing we do for bracelet events is use a 3x multiplier, so chips are not worth more or less in any particular event. If there is a one off event that falls out of the 3x multiplier, then we will use a different chip set for that specific event.”

However, according to Steve Zolotow, a renowned Card Player columnist, that is a common mistake many properties commit. Zolotow explained how important the scaling of stack to buy-in ratio is. “While all tournament chips say, ‘no cash value,’ they all have one. If you pay a $500 entry fee and get 1,000 in chips, the cash value is half of the face value. I was at a tournament where a low-entry super satellite gave 2,000 in chips for $100 cash.”

Zolotow continued: “On that same day, in the main tournament, players got 2,000 in chips for $500 cash. The same chips were used. Any unscrupulous player who managed to take chips from the satellite into the tournament made a 500 percent profit.”

The columnist says that it’s up to the players to ensure they get what they paid for, simply because they compete against each other and not the house.

Zolotow added: “Casinos have a strong incentive to protect their own money. If someone rips off the casino, they lose money. The have a lot less incentive to protect the players’ money. If the players are ripped off, it doesn’t cost the casino anything. In fact the thieves may generate a lot of card fees, rake, and can be very good tippers, so they can be popular with dealers and floor people.”

What can players do against cheating

Poker is a game of skill, there’s no doubt about it, even though some lawmakers think otherwise. Therefore it has traditionally been up to the players themselves to oversee the game in a larger sense. The most attentive and sharp players have always been the biggest force against cheating and dubious players. But of course the responsibility lies with the organizers.

Effel added to his words: “We all have a responsibility to do what we can. We invest and use video surveillance throughout, and ultimately the eye in the sky will catch it all and has been very effective in corroborating and verifying any issues that arise. But a chip police force made up of players and dealers are the first line of defense.”

He continued on the matter: “Players should be cognizant of other players chip stacks at their table. The major objective in a poker tournament is to win the other players chips. Therefore, players should be aware of how many chips their opponents have at all times. If a player suspects that chips may be missing or added to another player’s stack, they should discretely get up from the table and notify the section supervisor. We will then investigate and take appropriate action.”

Matt Savage also had something to add to this: “If you feel there’s something wrong at the table, then come and tell us. Poker is, for good or for bad, self-policing. The floor staff is there to protect the players, but the players need to remain vigilant in protecting themselves as well.”

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